“Can I take your order?”, asks the waiter at a quaint, no-frills Mughlai restaurant in the bustling city of Mumbai.
Without looking at the menu my father says: “Three plates butter chicken, three roomali rotis and one black daal. Also we’ll have some raita and onion salaad.”
Does it get any better? Rich butter chicken gravy coating the slightly charred pieces of tandoori chicken with soft rotis to mop up, all alongside the creamy slow-cooked black dal. With our bellies full and our hearts content we end another delicious meal with some cooling creamy malai kulfi.
I usually veer towards regional varieties of Indian cuisine – with a sub continent as big as ours it baffles me how little people know about the diversity of Indian cuisine. But for butter chicken I make an exception. If there is one thing you will find served in all Indian cities, it’s a classic butter chicken. Quintessentially northern Indian dishes have made their way across the country (and beyond!) – they are the essence of comfort food. Growing up further south in Mumbai, a visit to a north Indian and Mughlai restaurant meant sheer delight and glee because I could order butter chicken, and the places that got the spices right became a regular haunt for my family. The recipes in these restaurants haven’t changed since then, and visiting them today brings back memories of eating this gem of a dish as a child.
To think the humble beginnings of this delicious Indian dish came out of necessity! The legendary Indian chef Kundan Laal Gujral made tandoori cooking hugely popular when he opened his restaurant Moti Mahal in Delhi after partition, and it was within those rustic kitchens that butter chicken was invented. Kundan’s tandoori chicken and tikkas were kept beside hot tandoors and would often dry out in the absence of refrigeration. To reduce wastage they came up with a buttery gravy to keep it moist and enhance flavour of the overall dish – a stroke of genius if you ask me!
I recently cooked Butter chicken with Jamie on Food Tube and for me it was a chance to share my recipe and show how amazing this dish really is. It’s a given that Indians love it, but getting those who don’t know the dish to try it has been brilliant. There have been lots of comments and photos on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram of people cooking it. You can find a recipe for it here.
Dishes like these are classics that never go out of style. They stay true to their taste and make us happy every time we cook them. Indian cuisine is consistently evolving, growing and reaching homes everywhere. There are loads of Indian restaurants now putting inspired regional varieties on the menus in the UK and India, but also going back to classics that define the essence of Indian food.
So if you haven’t tried it I urge you to. Dare I say it’s a “curry” that ticks all the boxes and gives you a glimpse of what Indians across the world are so crazy about.